1. Fred Hess Quartet Crossed Paths
An inspired pianoless quartet with Hess on tenor sax, Ron Miles, on trumpet, with Ken Filiano and Matt Wilson on bass and drums, respectively. Beautifully vibrant precision freedom.
2. Ted Howe Ellington
An elegantly interactive piano trio infusing some of some of Duke's finest compositions with a mix of reverence and joyous verve.
3. Rich Halley Trio Mountains and Plains
Halley, a muscular-toned saxophonist, mixes it up with an imaginitive, always surprising, in-the-now bass/drums team of Clyde Reed and Dave Storrs.
4. Garage a Trois Outre Mer
A funky, quirky saxophone/vibes/guitar romp, with some keep-'em-dancin' drum work. An infectious high-energy sound.
5. Jerry Granelli, words by Rinde Eckert Sandhills Reunion
A spoken word setbacked by a cool praire breeze of a trio of reeds, cello, guitar/bass/drums; tales that are by turns poignant, funny, sad, timeless and always very "American" sounding.
6. The Vandermark 5 Color of Memory
A wild ride, as always with Vandermark 5. Ken Vandermark and Dave Rempis taking reeds to places "they've never gone before". A powerhouse sound that'll pin your ears back to the sides of your head, with Jeb Bishop on trombone (his last recording with group?), Kent Kessler, bass; and Tim Daisy, drums.
7. Triptych Myth The Beautiful
AUM Fidelity Records
Cooper-Moore putting the homemade instruments aside and getting into a piano trio mode, on this aptly titled disc. Free yet highly accessible and melodic and...beautiful. And a bonus: William Parker's informative, poetic liner notes.
8. Natsuki Tamura, Eliot Sharp, Takayuki Kato, Satoko Fujii In the Tank
A low-key, live, electric set by the uncategorizable trumpeter Tamura with Elliot Sharp on soprano sax and guitar, Satoko Fujii on piano, and Takayuki Kato, guitar. An undefinable droning mishmash of sounds that feels like a young universe struggling to swirl itself into a semblance of order.
9. Amina Figarova September Suite
Figarova's ambitious explorations of the emotions suffered during times of great loss, with emphasis on 9/11. A gorgeously-crafted work of art by the pianist and her sextet.
10. Ada Rovatti Airbop
A mainstream set by saxophonist Rovatti so immediately engaging that the suspicion was it might be a little "light"; that it might not stand up to repeated listens. Time and dozens of spins proved the suspicion unfounded. As fine a mainstream set as you'll hear this year, with trumpeter Randy Brecker sitting in on a handful of tunes.